Traveling to a new country for the first time is always exciting, especially if you plan to visit such a diverse and beautiful country like Malaysia. Yes, this country is still a hidden gem of Southeast Asia, which is located between popular tourist destinations Thailand and Singapore (btw Singapore was a part of Malaysia last time). However, Malaysia is very different compared to its neighboring countries, especially in terms of culture, economy, and development. So before you start packing your traveling bags, here are 15 very important things you should know when first time visiting Malaysia.
Know Before Travel to Malaysia
1. Where is this beautiful country?
Malaysia is located in tropical Southeast Asia and it is divided into two parts separated by the South China Sea:
- Peninsular Malaysia or also known as West Malaysia, is just slightly bigger than England. This part of Malaysia is definitely more developed, as the capital city Kuala Lumpur, and other well-known cities are located there.
- East Malaysia, is famous for its wildlife and rainforest. If you are a nature lover then you’re gonna love to travel on Borneo island.
Moreover, Malaysia has 878 islands, and some of them are really worth visiting if you are a beach fan or passionate diver (Sipadan, Layang Layang, and Perhentians Island).
2. Even Dinosaurs Live in This Nature
Malaysian rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world – an estimated 130 million years! Wow. Can you imagine?
Taman Negara is a Malaysian National park that has been there through all climate changes, continental drifts, and never been touched by any disastrous natural disaster.
Yes, Malaysia is located in a safe spot. But the most exciting thing is that even dinosaurs lived in this rainforest.
Nowadays you can organize a very exciting few-days tour to Taman Negara with very unique jungle experience. I highly recommend booking a tour guide.
3. The Most Multicultural Nation in SEA
Once you touch down in Malaysia be ready to see all races, colors, and religions there. And you will be surprised how well these cultures have mixed with each other.
By the way, Malaysia is the most mixed nation in Southeast Asia, with majority Malays (61.8%) Chinese (21.4) Indian (6.4%) as well you will see many Western people, Arabs, Pakistani especially in Kuala Lumpur.
4. Power of People and Religion
From 6 million in 1950 to almost 33 million citizens in 2019. Woo-hoo, Malaysia has been very active in increasing its population.
The official religion in Malaysia is Islam, mostly dominated by Malays who are Muslim (61.3%), the second-largest is Buddhist (19.8%), followed by Christian (9.2%), and Hindu (6.3%).
Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where you can see several religions, faiths, and deities live in peace and harmony.
5. Great Influence from History
1500 – Portuguese conquered Malacca or Melaka (the main port city & international trade center in Malaysia). Malacca city is a unique city and definitely worth visiting!
1600 – Dutch were ruling in Malaysia for 183 years with the intermittent British occupation.
18th -19th century: Britain established colonies in Malaysia. British Empire has significantly influenced Malaysian architecture, trading, infrastructure, education, and many more. This is also a reason why nowadays almost everyone speaks English there.
1957: Malaysia finally gets its independence from Britain.
6. Four Seasons Country?
Malaysia is NOT a 4 season country, only if you count it as Dry, Wet, Dengue, and Durian seasons. But this tropical country is divided into Dry and Rainy (Monsoon) seasons.
Peninsular Malaysia: You will experience slightly more rain from April – October (refreshing tropical rain for max 4h, every day), but other than that it is a good time to travel throughout the whole year, but be careful during September.
East Malaysia (Borneo Side) & East Cost – do not plan your trip to the mainland or islands nearby from November – February. It is a MONSOON season there! Most of the resorts are closed and not available.
Temperature: 25°C – 33°C every day, all year round. The temperature drops to 20°C+ in hill areas, for example, Genting Highlands or Cameron Highlands.
7. You Should Speak Manglish
The official language is Malay (simple and easy to learn), but as mentioned before English is widely spoken. But having such a multicultural influence, Malaysians have created their own Malaysian English or Manglish.
For instance, they use Lah, in almost every sentence – Yes Lah, No lah, OK, lah, Let’s go lah, Eat lah, Thank you lah .. and so on. There is no particular meaning for that, it is just their ease of communication. And there are more and more words in their Manglish vocabulary.
But don’t worry. You will not have a communication problem if you speak only English there.
Know During Your Travel
Once you understand the geographical, demographic, cultural, and historical aspects of Malaysia, now you can start packing your bags and truly enjoy this country.
8. Don’t Walk, Take Transport
When you land at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), it will be around 1h drive to Kuala Lumpur city center. The easiest option is to book the GRAB Car app (similar to UBER or Bolt) and pay a fixed price RM 65.00 + toll (around RM 8.00).
The GRAB is the easiest transportation to use traveling around the city. It’s cheap and widely available in all major cities.
If you are a fan of public transport (which is very cheap and well connected in Kuala Lumpur) then use only MRT, LRT, or Monorail. Do not use busses! Not safe.
Malaysia is not a pedestrian-friendly country, so forget about walking long distances. It is just too hot outside and no proper infrastructure.
9. Live in Luxury Hotels
You can enjoy luxury and a very affordable stay in Kuala Lumpur. Hotels and serviced apartments like Ascot Hotel, Concorde Hotel, The Platinum Building (THE FACE Suites), and many more are gorgeous places. However, ALWAYS book a hotel with an infinity pool. You don’t wanna miss this opportunity to enjoy the city view from the rooftop pool.
Additionally, this country is also suitable for backpackers, and you will get many hostels, motels, guesthouses, Couchsurfing stays in the city.
NOTE: All hotels charge RM 10 tourist tax per room per night. Some hotels request a deposit (around RM 100+) on check-in, which is refundable when you check out. So better prepare cash!
10. Better Wear “Polite Clothing”
Respect the culture, and cover your shoulder and legs. This is particularly important for ladies if you visit religious temples and other places. Take your own silk or cotton scarf which you can use indoors. Oh yes, Malaysians love air-conditioned rooms, so sometimes it can get a bit chilly.
In general, take clothes which are made from breathable fabrics and are more suitable outdoors.
11. Get Crazy About Food & Beverages
Malaysia is really a food paradise! Must-try dishes are:
- Malay Food: Nasi Lemak, Assam Laksa, Beef Rendang, Satay Chicken, Kaya toast, Nasi Kerabu;
- Chinese Food: Dim Sum for breakfast (photo below), Char kway teow, Wonton Mee, Hokkien Mee, Bak Kut Teh;
- Indian Food: Roti Canai, Banana Leaf
Teh Tarik, Ipoh White coffee, and fresh juices are must-try beverages. Please note that they will always put sweetener (sugar) in your fresh juice and other drinks. Just ask the waiter NOT to add it.
NOTE: NOT the most friendly place for vegans and also limited vegetarian options.
12. But How About Alcohol?
Of course, alcohol is not served in Malay restaurants, but it is available in any other western or Chinese restaurants or bars. Also, there are plenty of Skybars in Kuala Lumpur. The best one is definitely Vertigo Bar at Banyan Tree Hotel (Level 59).
By the way, you must try TUAK which is rice wine originated from Sarawak (the state in East Malaysia). It is a sweet and very delicious local rice wine.
13. Money, Money, Money
The Malaysian ringgit (RM or MYR) is their official currency.
Malaysians love cash, so there are still many small shops and cafes who do not accept debit/credit cards. So prepare cash, if you are going to rural areas.
But in general, you can pay with your card in most of the shops, shopping malls, hotels, grocery stores, etc.
Is it expensive?
It is definitely much cheaper than Singapore, but slightly more expensive than Thailand.
14. Be nice. Give Tips.
In most restaurants, a 5-10% service charge is included in the bill. Also, it is not necessary to tip in the GRAB Car drivers. In Malaysia, tipping is not required, but you can always give some small amount (RM 5.00 +) to the porter for carrying your luggage or others.
15. Must-See Places First Time Visiting Malaysia
You will need a minimum of 2 weeks to catch the real feeling of Malaysia.
The majority of people will travel Peninsular Malaysia first and visit places like Kuala Lumpur, Genting Highlands, Malacca, Penang (Georgetown), Ipoh, and Cameron Highlands. People who love snorkeling and diving usually go to Redang, Tioman, or Perhentian islands.
Must-visit places in East Malaysia are Kuching, Bako National Park, The Sarawak Cave Chamber, Gunung Mulu National Park and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.
Need More Reasons Why Malaysia is an Awesome Country?
Ok, here are 6 Super – Facts:
- Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur are the highest twin towers in the world.
- The Sarawak Cave Chamber is the largest known cave chamber in the world.
- Sipadan Island (East Malaysia) is among the best diving islands in the world.
- The best quality Durian (“the smelly fruit”) grows in Malaysia.
- Currently, the biggest Hotel in the world – Malaysia’s First World Hotel – with a 7,350-room is located in Genting Highlands (1,5h drive from the capital city Kuala Lumpur).
- Famous shoe designer Jimmy Choo was born in Penang, Malaysia.
And this is it!
I hope you got some new ideas and inspiration to travel to this wonderful country. Also, please comment below, if you would like to add some other tips for travelers’ who first time visiting Malaysia.